After a tour of U.S. tracks last fall, John Hislop, racing correspondent for the London Observer and one of the world's foremost experts on breeding, wrote for his paper a three-part series comparing his impressions of racing here and in England. A somewhat condensed version of this report follows below. Without necessarily endorsing all of Hislop's opinions, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED believes with him that if U.S. racing eliminates too many traditional sporting elements for the sake of purely business interests, both the sport and the business will eventually suffer.
The conditions governing racing in England and America are so different that the sport in the one country cannot be judged or criticized entirely by the standards of the other. In consequence, there is not a great deal which we can learn from each other without making an impractical or impossible reorganization of our respective systems.
The basic influences in American racing are geography, politics and big business. The chief faults of the American racing system would seem to be: lack of a central control with wide powers over all the main aspects of the sport; putting too much stress on attracting the betting public at the expense of providing a true and fair test for the best type of racehorse; and, finally, monotony.
Owing to the wide distances between the important U.S. cities, racing is centralized in different districts, meetings often running for several months on end. Also, there are few grass courses.
Politically, American racing is affected in that each state runs its own racing and draws a substantial revenue from its share of the money betted on the Tote. Linked with this factor is the big business represented by the racecourse companies; most of these are private, profit-making concerns, a notable exception being the New York Racing Association, which operates all the tracks in that state.
As opposed to its English counterpart, the American Jockey Club has little power. All states agree to respect its warning-off notices, and it publishes the Racing Calendar and The Stud Book, licenses colors and assumed names (a practice no longer allowed in England), but it has no further power over the racing commissions of the various states. Since The Jockey Club in America has no power over racecourse policy, races are framed almost entirely to draw the betting public, instead of to provide a measure of variety and improve the breed of the race horse. While racing executives in England are given a pretty wide latitude of choice in framing races, they are bound to keep within margins designed by The Jockey Club to give a reasonably diverse program and encourage the breeding of the right type of horse. Thus it would be impossible for a racecourse in England to stage a card with six consecutive races over six furlongs (out of a total of nine races), as can happen in America;
The prevailing force among all these influences forming the character of American racing is money. Appreciating the revenue derived from racing, the states in which it takes place give it the fullest encouragement, but with an eye almost solely on directing the greatest possible amount through the Tote. In this they are supported by the racecourse companies. As a result, bookmakers are banned, as is all off-course betting. Illegal betting exists but is fairly vigorously suppressed by the states because it injures their vested interests.
The betting public prefers seeing horses racing under its noses, and virtually every racecourse is little more than a mile round; so far as I can discover, the only one which is a mile and a half round is Belmont, a beautiful course laid out on European lines. Jumping is popular as a spectacle, but not as a medium for betting; thus there is little of it. To please the public, the element of chance must be reduced to a minimum. In consequence, every racecourse is left-handed and all flat races (except the Washington International) are started from stall gates. "We don't like these stall gates. They're a strain on horses' legs and temperaments, but an American race crowd presupposes everything to be crooked and, if the favorite got left, as in some of your starts in England, they'd pull the place down," an owner-breeder remarked to me.
The not infrequent suggestions that we should adopt the American-type starting gate merely emphasizes the ignorance of those who propound it. Wheeling the American starting gate on and off the racecourse for six races a day on English racecourses, especially in soft ground, would be quite impracticable.
Owners are kept quiet by huge prizes and low entry fees: �10,000 races are common, and for all the minor races there is no entry fee. The large prizes also result in there being very little betting by owners and trainers—or jockeys. "The average owner, trainer and jockey is mad if he bets here; there's so much to be earned without it," an American racing man told me.